Boundaries and the Movies: Learning About the Ethics of Therapeutic Boundaries Through Movies

Course materials are available as articles.

This unique course will use popular movies to teach therapists ethical issues. This course focuses on the following topics: informed consent, gifts, home office, clothing, language, humor and silence, proximity and distance between therapist and client, and, finally, sexual relations between therapist and client. Each of the above topics is reviewed in depth followed by a series of movie vignettes and ethical commentary on the vignettes.

Themes in movies have long shown a fascination with therapeutic boundaries. Good Will Hunting shows a counselor who grabs his client and uses foul language. Antwone Fisher describes a client who presents the gift of a poem to his therapist when he is invited to a family dinner. Prime demonstrates several accidental self-disclosures that a home office location can produce. Ordinary People shows how a therapist’s clothing can make a client feel comfortable and help build a therapeutic alliance. Several movies, such as Basic Instinct, Bliss and Mr. Jones, depict the ultimate boundary issue — sexual relationships between therapist and client. Prince of Tides puts a twist on boundaries and depicts a sexual relationship between a therapist and the client’s brother. Additional resources and references are provided for further study, but they are not part of the course.

Due to copyright laws, this course does not include movie clips, only descriptions of the movies.

Disclaimer: This course is purely educational and does not intend to serve as a license (or permission) to mental health professionals to prescribe or practice any of the approaches discussed in this course unless they fall within the scope of practice of your profession. Check with your licensing board about the scope of practice of your profession to make sure you practice within that scope.It also does not serve as a permission to title yourself in any specific way.

Educational Objectives

  • Apply their decision-making process to legal and ethical considerations for Informed Consent, Gifts, Home Office and Sexual Relationships.
  • Ethically utilize considerations regarding therapists' and clients' Clothing and the use of Language.
  • Ethically utilize decisions around Proximity to a client.
  • Apply updates on professional organizations' codes of ethics and state law to the issue of Sexual Relationships with clients.
  • Further utilize their ability for critical thinking as it pertains to ethical decision-making.


  • Informed Consent: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Informed Consent in the Movies (i.e., Good Will Hunting, Antwone Fisher, Girl Interrupted, Grosse Pointe Blank)
  • Gifts: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Gifts in the Movies (i.e., Antwone Fisher, Bliss, Dressed to Kill, K-Pax, Prime, What About Bob?)
  • Home office: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Home Office in the Movies (i.e., Antwone Fisher, Bliss, Deconstructing Harry, Dress to Kill, K-Pax, Francis, Prime)
  • Clothing: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Clothing in the Movies (i.e., Bliss, Ordinary People)
  • Language and Silence: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Language and Silence in the Movies (i.e., Antwone Fisher, Dressed to Kill, Frances, Girl Interrupted, Good Will Hunting, Grosse Pointe Blank, K-Pax, Prime, What About Bob? )
  • Proximity: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Proximity in the Movies (i.e., Frances, Girl Interrupted, Good Will Hunting, K-Pax, Prime, Mr. Jones, Prince of Tides, What About Bob?)
  • Sexual Relations: Ethical and Clinical Considerations
    • Sexual Relations in the Movies (i.e., Basic Instincts, Bliss, Dressed to Kill, Girl Interrupted, Mr. Jones, Prince of Tides, Stay)
  • Code of Ethics on Informed Consent, Home Office, Proximity & Sexual Relationships
  • California Law in Regard to Therapeutic Boundaries